“Cosmic religion”

A repeat of a previous post – from last March.

Did Einstein believe in God?

Certainly some theists support their own beliefs by claiming he did. However Einstein’s religious beliefs were certainly not conventional. His statements have been used by atheists and theists alike as support for their positions. We need to look more closely at Einstein’s writings to get a clearer idea of his beliefs.

Max Jammer’s book Einstein and Religion: Physics and Theology is probably the best easily available source on the subject. According to Jammer, although Einstein had a “deep religiosity” as a child “at the age of twelve, just when he should have been preparing for the bar mitzvah, the Jewish confirmation, he suddenly became completely irreligious.” A position from which he never changed throughout the rest of his life.

I wonder how we can describe a child under the age of 12 as having strong beliefs – age 12 is probably that time when people start to develop serious beliefs.

Religious attacks on Einstein

Einstein rejected the concept of a personal God and religion based on fear and “the social and moral conception of God.” He came under concerted attack from religious leaders and believers for his comments on these matters to a scientific conference in 1940. He was told that he “does not know what he is talking about. He is all wrong.” “Full of jellybeans … he is giving the religious bigots, especially the followers of Hitler and the Ku Klux Klan, fuel for fanatical fires.” “Nothing has been so calculated to make people think Hitler had some reason to expel Jews from Germany as your statement.”

The founder of the Calvary Tabernacle Association wrote: “Professor Einstein, every Christian in America will immediately reply to you, ‘Take your crazy, fallacious theory of evolution and go back to Germany where you come from’!”

It’s interesting to read these assessments now when a common theistic response to Einstein is to attempt to claim him as “on their side.”

Cosmic Religion

Despite his criticism of conventional religious beliefs Einstein often claimed to be deeply religious himself, to have a deep religiosity. He made statements expressing a strong religious attitude and those today wishing to enlist his support to shore up their own beliefs will often refer to these.

This apparent contradiction is tied up with Einstein’s rather unconventional use of the words like “religion,” “God,” etc. Einstein’s use of these terms can be traced to his profession of a “cosmic religion.” He clarified this concept in many statements.

He claimed God can be conceived only through the “rationality or intelligibility of the world which lies behind all scientific work of a higher order.”

“I am of the opinion that all the finer speculations in the realm of science spring from a deep religious feeling, and that without such feeling they would not be fruitful. I also believe that, this kind of religiousness, which makes itself felt today in scientific investigations, is the only creative religious activity of our time.”

“A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, our perceptions of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which only in their most primitive forms are accessible to our minds – it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute true religiosity; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man. I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the kind that we experience in ourselves.”

“While it is true that scientific results are entirely independent from religious or moral considerations, those individuals to whom we owe the great creative achievements of science were all of them imbued with the truly religious conviction that this universe of ours is something perfect and susceptible to rational striving for knowledge.”

Einstein’s “cosmic religion” is one that many, if not most, scientists would accept. Probably many atheists would also accept it. In fact, Richard Dawkins is on record as saying he would accept this “God” – he just wishes that Einstein had not used the term “God” because of the confusion it has caused.

Einstein a pantheist?

Einstein did not describe himself as an atheist – he seems to have reacted negatively to that term (many non-theists do). He came close to describing himself as a Spinozan type of pantheist. Pantheism has sometimes been called a “sexed up atheism.” Dawkins has described Eisnstein as an “atheistic Spinozan.”

Jammer referred to Einstein’s “deep conviction of the rationality of the universe” as “the Spinozistic-Einsteinian expression for religiosity.”

Einstein himself seem to declare a preference for Spinoza’s ideas: “We followers of Spinoza see out God in the wonderful order and lawfulness of all that exists and in its soul as it reveals itself in man and animals.”

“In common parlance this may be described as ‘pantheistic’ (Spinoza). Denominational traditions I can only consider historically and psychologically; they have no other significance for me.”

Most of us can agree

So I think it is wrong to claim Einstein was religious in the conventional way. His concept of “God” was also not that normally used by religious believers. The deep religiosity Einstein felt mis that awe and respect commonly felt by researchers. Awe and respect for the deep beauty and logical order of reality, as well as its ability to be potentially understood by humanity.

I have often felt that same sense of awe and respect – I just don’t call it religious.

Related Articles:
Intelligent design and depression
Scientific dissent from . . . science?
A respectable man with a dangerous theory
Life: a gene-centric view
Changing your mind
Intelligent design and scientific method
Can religion answer the questions science can’t?
Carl Sagan

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5 responses to ““Cosmic religion”

  1. For those who would like to read the first chapter of Max Jammer’s book, here it on PDF.
    http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s6681.pdf

    “Full of jellybeans … he is giving the religious bigots, especially the followers of Hitler and the Ku Klux Klan, fuel for fanatical fires.” “Nothing has been so calculated to make people think Hitler had some reason to expel Jews from Germany as your statement.”

    So there were people back in 1940 who felt that Hitler would want to expell an unbeliever from Germany?
    That will come as a shock to some people.

    We’ve all heard the Hitler/Stalin/Atheist cliches.
    As an argument, it stinks.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reductio_ad_Hitlerum

    I often wonder why people who want to portray Hitler as an atheist don’t just read up on him.
    Having said that, some idiot will now try and find a web-site that “PROVES” that Hitler really was an atheist.
    No. Relying on “Table Talk” will get you nowhere.
    Any good historian will use multiple, independent…
    (pause)
    Never mind. Why bother to explain?
    If somebody’s too thick to do some serious research on the topic then my pointing out the bleeding obvious won’t help much.
    (sigh)
    There’s plenty of exhaustively well-researched biographies on Hitler. His personal an political views are well recorded.

    None of his contemporaries ever called him an atheist.
    Churchill had no love for him. Yet did Churchill ever call Hitler an atheist?
    Nope.

    Did the Jimmy Swaggarts, Ted Haggards and the Jerry Falwells of Hitler’s era condemn him from their pulpits as being an atheist?
    No. It would have just sounded silly.

    So how much do you know about Adolf Hitler and what he actually said?
    Why not take a quiz?
    http://www.bettybowers.com/reich.html

  2. The term, “god”, is interchangeable with a cosmological law of physics that brings about the observed, “logical order of reality” and this is what Einstein referred to as “god”. It’s also known to modern science as the Anthropic Principle, and science still doesn’t have a better mechanism for explaining it than a multiverse, which quite possibly requires and even greater leap of faith than it does to think that god did it:

    http://discovermagazine.com/2008/dec/10-sciences-alternative-to-an-intelligent-creator/article_view?searchterm=Intelligent%20creator&=&b_start:int=0

    By far the most willfully ignored solution to the problem is a bio-oriented cosmological structure mechanism that defines the “logical order of reality” from first physics principles, like an energy conservation law, for example, and this would be the solution that is most “in-line” with Einstein’s belief that “god doesn’t throw dice”, since it would mean that we aren’t here by accident, because we are a “specially” necessary feature of the structure mechanism, even though it defines some purely physical need for life to appear at a specific time in the history of the universe, and over an equally specific region of the observed universe.

    Nobody likes Einstein’s “god”, but that doesn’t mean squat to science until we have a final theory that truly justifies that he was wrong.

    And frankly, I don’t believe the hype for one minute:

    http://dorigo.wordpress.com/2007/10/18/

  3. The strategem (yes, mostly that of Christians) is to attack things by ideologizing them; reducing them to a finite essence that may be reciprocally mapped, abducted, and then erased. The problem is that atheism is 1) inherently pluralistic and irreducibly individual and 2) in most regards, atheism is pre-ideological because of its intrinsic tendency toward intellectual curiosity and the negation of prescriptive truth. But man, its really getting ridiculous out there. Just do a word press search for “atheism” and the first few posts will show what I mean. It’s always this futile striving for enforcing christian nationalistic ideology by reducing atheism to Marxism, totalitarianism, even “evangelicalism” (LMAO!), or various other negative cultural “others”. The best part is that these folks often only succeed at vindicating atheist views, but the climate is still quite worrisome, and the Einstein example only foregrounds the same problem; this idea that nothing exceeds the cultural ideology of Christianity, or that universally no alternative views are valid.

    Thanks to Cedric and Island for those links. And as for reductio ad hitlerum, allow me to commit one of my own against the argument that the Nazi’s were atheist: “Gott mit uns.” Oh wait, that’s not a Godwin, that’s historical fact…

  4. [quote]I often wonder why people who want to portray Hitler as an atheist don’t just read up on him.Having said that, some idiot will now try and find a web-site that “PROVES” that Hitler really was an atheist.[/quote]

    Hitler was not an atheist, he was an occultist. Stalin, Lenin, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro, however were.

  5. Stalin, Lenin, Mao, et al, were arguably not atheist because their totalitarian ideology ultimatlely had priority over their “atheism.” Many forms of Atheism regard ideology and Atheism as mutually exclusive. Using “atheism” as merely a means to an end, or merely some antithesis to Christian capitalism, is not Atheism, its just political opportunism–whether its by (so-called) communists or right-wingers in the U.S. There’s also a tacit jab at Marxism there, which none of those people truly represented anyway.

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